Creation is in the improvisation

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a beloved friend, a young man from China who is in the US in search of his American Dream. I’ve never been to a Chinese wedding before. I’m not sure how traditional this one was, since Peter and his beautiful wife Sharon are Christians now. My spouse and I figure it was a blend of New World and Old, for nearly all of the 80 attendees were Chinese immigrants working in the vast service industries of NYC, painting the nails and massaging the knots out of countless harried New Yorkers, present company included. The wedding was held on a Tuesday night in Queens because the guests work on weekends. We two were the only non-Chinese there. Many of our compatriots spoke no English.

There was a traditional 12 course Chinese dinner served on giant lazy susans embedded within the tables, steaming platters sharing space with fresh packs of cigarettes (no filters, of course), small gift-wrapped boxes with candy and bottles of Chinese liquor that was a cross between vodka and brandy. Real fire water. I have no idea what I ate, and it was all delicious.

Seated to my left was Li Zhongmei, one of the most famous dancers in China, subject of the new book, “A Girl Named Faithful Plum”. She is one of the most interesting people I know, an elegant and fantastically beautiful woman with the skin of a twelve year old and the slender frame of a small bird. She owns the nail salon I frequent, which is how I know the groom and many of the wedding guests.

At the appointed time, Zhongmei excused herself and slipped off to change into a beautiful costume, for she had come to dance for Peter and Sharon. Everyone buzzed excitedly about this, knowing how famous she was back home.

All I can say is that her dance was extraordinary. She moved across the floor like water, smooth and graceful with twirling arms and a face that turned luminous – or should I say numinous – as she performed. There was something about that change in her expression, when her face transformed, that I found electrifying and I asked her about it when she returned to sit beside me.

Was she was aware of how her face changed as she danced? Oh yes, she said, because she danced an improvisation. She explained that a choreographed piece demanded such detailed precision, such focus, that the dancer rarely feels the exchange of energy with the audience. She decided to dance improv in order to connect with Peter and Sharon and our happy crowd. She wanted to honor us and to feel connected with the whole.

“The creation, the gift, is in the improv”, she explained.

Creation is in the improv, in the messiness of winging it, going on instinct, risking embarrassment and failure, the very things we are NOT teaching our kids.

Our children are exhausted. Over-stimulated. Bombarded with academic and social demands from adults and peers alike. Deprived of privacy, not to mention sleep and proper nutrition. “No child left behind” morphing into “no child left unscathed”, where children are slapped with near-impossible demands on their time to produce for the many adults with whom they intersect.

So where is the opportunity for improv and, therefore, for their gift?

Kids need down time. They need time to daydream to access their imagination and time to sleep so they can receive inspiration in dreamtime. All inventors know that rest is as crucial as action. Please find ways, if even small ones, to cut your kids some free time. Let them twirl and dance and laugh and breathe.

It’s all in the improv, after all.

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